House Approves Bill to Aid W.Va. Schools for the Deaf and Blind
The House of Delegates has passed a bill to aid the state’s struggling Schools for the Deaf and Blind in Romney, West Virginia.
House Bill 4147 would make the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind eligible for funding from the West Virginia School Building Authority or SBA. The SBA awards some $50 million dollars in additional funds each year to county school systems for building or renovation projects.
The Schools for the Deaf and Blind are located in the small town of Romney in the Eastern Panhandle. It’s a school that serves Pre-K to twelfth graders from all around the state, but over the years, the campus and its buildings have fallen into disrepair.
“The West Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind is under the control of the West Virginia Board of Education," explained state Board of Education President Michael Green, "The background of that is it does not [belong to] any particular county so therefore it is directly responsible to the state School Board.”
Because the Schools for the Deaf and Blind are controlled at the state level, Green says they don’t have the ability to raise their own funds through bonds or levies like a regular county school system. That’s led to problems with facilities’ upkeep, building security, and the installment of specialized equipment.
So last year, the Schools reached out to the legislature for help. In a near unanimous vote, lawmakers approved an appropriations bill giving the schools an additional $1.5 million dollars for construction and improvement projects. Governor Tomblin, vetoed that measure however, citing larger problems with the facility.
House Education Chairman, Paul Espinosa of Jefferson County says an assessment of the Schools conducted after Tomblin’s 2015 veto was successful.
“That study was commissioned by the governor," Espinosa said, "He directed the state Board to conduct the study, and again, it pretty clearly indicated that there were significant needs.”
The newly approved bill is a new attempt to meet those needs by allowing the Schools to ask for SBA funding. It passed overwhelmingly 98 to 0 in the House Friday.
“I know a number of members of the House and Senate Education Committees, during the interims, did visit the Romney Schools for the Deaf and Blind and were able to see firsthand some of the challenges that they have. So this legislation simply would make it possible for the Schools for the Deaf and Blind to compete for SBA funding just as other counties do,” Espinosa explained.
The schools had asked the SBA for those funds in the past, but did not award any dollars because board members didn’t believe they were able to under state code.
Espinosa says he’s optimistic that both the Senate and Governor Tomblin will approve House Bill 4147 and the Schools will be able to get the funding they need.